I’d never been embarrassed of my flat before, not until I first walked through the door with Alfie by my side. I imagined what it was like going into an almost-empty flat that was so cold I could see my breath, and my own reaction wasn’t good. I glanced nervously to my left, at Alfie, but he was just looking at me. His eyes were soft and his mouth was curved upwards in an adorable smile, and then my nerves disappeared.
The tour around the flat was quick because I didn’t have many possessions; books, clothes, makeup and pens littered my bedroom, but all of the other rooms were all but empty. He put his bag down in the corner of my bedroom and looked around for a moment before sitting on the edge of my bed. We had discussed the sleeping arrangements on the journey home, and even after him insisting that if I wasn’t comfortable with us sharing a bed he could sleep on the floor, I reassured him that I was comfortable. I was far from uncomfortable, really, because it was all I’d been thinking about since it was all decided. The idea of waking up beside him in the morning, or having him there if I had a nightmare, made my heart pound and my head spin - in a good way.
“Do you want a coffee?” I asked him, turning towards the kitchen.
“Sure, black, no sugar,” he told me as though I didn’t already know. He took his coffee exactly the same as mine. “How long have you lived here?”
“A year and a half. They couldn’t keep me in care after I turned 18,” I said as I flicked on the kettle and pulled out two mismatched mugs from the cupboard. “I stayed in a hostel for a few months, and then I was in and out of hospital for... Well, just like I was the other day, I guess. Soph- I mean, Doctor Booker was very kind to me, though, and helped me find this place.”
I poured the water into the mugs and watched the steam billow upwards to the ceiling. It curled and swayed. As I watched, I thought back to when I lived in the hostel. They were the fondest memories I had; never has a group of people welcomed me as much as the people there did. I used to joke and laugh with them, and almost forgot everything that had happened. Almost. I shook my head and composed myself. That was in the past. I breathed into the steam, bemused, and made it dance around in the air until it disappeared.
When I walked back into my room, Alfie was sat on the edge of my bed. He looked like he belonged there. His appearance complimented the room perfectly, his smile lit up the darkest corners better than any lamp could, and he seemed so comfortable in a space that was once my own. I thought that I would never live with another person, and in that moment I never wanted to live alone again. It made my heart swell to see him somewhere so close to me. As I handed him his coffee he ran his left hand through his hair. I smiled at him and sat down on the bed, shuffling back so I could cross my legs.
“That was nice of Doctor Booker,” Alfie said. I was confused for a moment, so he elaborated. “It was nice of her to help you find this place. It’s nice.”
“Having somewhere safe was supposed to help me grow as a person and forget things,” I stared at the wall. “Sophie thought that if I had somewhere to call my own – home – I’d be able to recover. I suppose the idea of having independence and the freedom to go where I want when I want, and to earn my own money and support myself meant that I was getting better.”
“Well I think you’re getting better. I know I wasn’t there when things were at their worse, and I understand that you don’t want to talk about it because talking about it means you have to relive it, but I also know that unloading everything onto someone else makes the load lighter,” his hand was on my knee as he smiled reassuringly. “I’m not going to force you to tell me what happened, but I want you to know that I am willing to listen if you need someone to talk to. Or cry to. Or cuddle with.”
I didn’t respond for a while; not because I didn’t have anything to say, but because I had too much to say. Every experience I’d had in my life leapt to my tongue, trying to force their way out, but I didn’t let them. I couldn’t tell him. Instead, I watched the light filter in through the blinds, landing on his head. Dust shot through the bars of sunlight like shooting stars, and if I had been in a better mood I would have made a wish. I dropped to my left so that I was laying on my side with my head next to his. I could feel his breath on my face. Feeling him there beside me made me calm down, and it brought me the closest to happy that I’d ever been. I had no idea how to describe how he made me feel. When I was with him, he made my head feel like the sky after the rain. He made me speechless. Looking into his eyes made my heart beat faster and my palms sweat and my head spin.
“You have no idea how much that means to me,” I murmured. I closed my eyes for a moment, feeling more at peace than I’d ever felt.
“You deserve happiness, and I think that starts with this. Right now, this is where we’ll start,” I could hear the smile in his voice. “And I think we should eat something to commemorate such a momentous start. Pizza?”
I nodded, feeling sick to my stomach at the thought of eating something. I didn’t want to eat, but I knew he was too good a person to let me go without eating dinner, so I didn’t say anything. I’m sure I can stomach a few slices of pizza, I thought, ignoring the tightening knot in my gut. Alfie got up and pulled out his phone, tapping in a few numbers and holding it up to his ear. He asked me something, and I didn’t hear him, but I nodded anyway. He said something else, probably to the person on the other end of the phone, but my hearing was muffled and it wasn’t making sense. I only started to pay attention again when he was back by my side.
“Our pizza will be here in half an hour,” Alfie said, and it sounded like a triumphant announcement, as though being able to eat was a success. I wished to feel like that towards something, but I was still numb to almost everything. I got up and went to my purse, trying to pull out enough money for half, but he stopped me. His hand was on mine as he said; “Let me pay for it. It’s my treat.”
“Okay,” I nodded. “What do you want to do this evening?”
“We could watch a film? I’ve got my laptop with me, and a few DVDs?”
“Sure, that’d be nice,” I shrugged. I hadn’t watched a film in a long time, but I was happy to do anything and go anywhere just as long as I had Alfie there with me.
In no time, we were sat on my bed with his laptop in front of us, watching an old film that I’d never heard of. It turned out that he liked old movies. As we settled down to watch it, he told me about his film collection.
“In my bedroom at home I’ve got piles of DVDs. Other people have piles of books or magazines or photo albums, and I have DVDs. They’re like an escape, I guess,” Alfie said. The way his face lit up as he spoke about it made me smile. I wanted to like something just as much as he liked movies, or like he loved coffee. I supposed that I loved writing, or notebooks, or the smell of the world early in the morning, but it wasn’t the same.
We were sat a few inches apart. God, I wanted to be closer to him. I wanted it so much it made my heart ache. I yearned for contact, even if it was our knees touching with a thousand layers of clothes between us; I was starved of closeness and reassurance, and in that moment only he could help me. But all of my anxiety made me wonder what would happen if he rejected my contact. He wasn’t the type of person to be rude towards me, but I knew that if he didn’t want to be closer to me, I would cry. As I thought it through in my head I realised something; if he didn’t want to be closer to me, he wouldn’t have agreed to sleeping in the same bed, or living with me. As I was worrying, I glanced over at him. Alfie was engrossed in the film, with a pretty black-haired lady strolling across the screen in a slinky blue dress, and all of my attention was focused on him. I watched his face as he watched the film, two different spectacles to watch, and to me only one of them was worth looking at.
He noticed that I was watching him after about five minutes.
“What?” he asked. A smile grew, and the dimple on his left cheek made him look adorable. “Do I have something on my face?”
“No,” I replied.
Instead of elaborating, I mustered up all of my courage and shifted closer to him. I only moved slightly, so that our knees were touching, but it was enough for me. We sat there for a moment, watching the film, until the doorbell rang. The ding dong echoed around the flat for a minute whilst Alfie pulled out his wallet and disappeared down the hall. I felt his absence immediately.
When he walked back, my stomach sunk. He was carrying two large pizza boxes and a bottle of coke, with a big smile plastered onto his face. The smell of pizza wafted through the air and made me feel sick. I tried to swallow my nerves. I didn’t want to show any signs of fear in front of him, no matter how comfortable or how happy he made me. I trusted him with everything, but in a way I didn’t want him to think less of me. I was already embarrassed about making a scene and scaring him.
Alfie flopped down on the bed beside me and put the boxes down. I waited for a moment, unsure. He glanced at me, concerned, before opening one of the boxes. Bile rose in my throat. It looked delicious and repulsive all at the same time.
“What?” he asked, scooping up a slice. I sat in silence, just staring, until I felt his hand on my back, rubbing gently. “Are you okay?”
I sniffed and rubbed my nose, unsure of what to say. “I’m sorry.”
Alfie put his slice of pizza down and put his arms around me.
“You don’t have to eat a lot if you don’t want to,” he murmured as I buried my face in his chest. “I’m not going to make you eat a three course meal, but you’re going to sit here – next to me – and eat the crispy bits of the crust and drink some coke whilst we watch a film. Okay?”
I nodded, breathing in his scent before pulling away.
“Tomorrow, I’ll make us something nice, small and tasty,” Alfie said, giving me a soft smile as he rubs his hand on my knee. I melted at the touch.
I broke off parts of the crust and collected them in my hand as I sipped at my cold glass. I didn’t eat a lot, but I had a strong feeling of success that rose in my chest after I realised that I had actually eaten. After I finished I settled beside Alfie. We stretched out over the duvet, not exactly touching but close enough for my skin to prickle.
In this way I fell asleep, with my head buried in a pillow.